Brahmavihara Dhamma

Part I by Ven, Mahasi Sayadaw

* Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammâ Sambuddhasa

(2) Prelude to the Dhamma

Today is the Full Moon day of Waso, 1327 B.E., Starting from today, I will give teachings on the Brahmavihara Dhamma. In the phrase or group of words – “Brahmavihara”, the word “Brahma” means “Noble”. This word, if properly pronounced in Pali should be recited as “Birahma”. In Burmese, it is to be represented and recited carrying a vocal sound as “Brahma”. This can be easily understood. The word “Vihara” conveys the meaning of “Dwelling”, or “Abiding”, or “Living”. Hence, ” Brahmavihara ” purports the meaning of “Noble Living”, or rather, “Living in the exercise of goodwill.”

The expression “Brahmavihara”, if analysed, will include metta, friendliness or loving-kindness, karuna, compassion, mudita, goodwill or rejoicing with others in their happiness or prosperity, and upekkha, equanimity or indifference to pain and pleasure. These are the four kinds of Brahmavihara. It has however been mentioned in Mahagovinda Sutta as “Brahmacariya.” Therefore, Brahmavihara Dhamma is commonly named as “Brahmacara” Dhamma. Brahmacariya means Life of Holiness or Living a Virtuous Life. This can therefore be also called Brahmacara Dhamma from now onwards.

Then also, in the Abhidhamma desana, the Brahmavihara Dhamma has been explained as appamanna, the term that is derived from the word “infinite” or “boundless”. It has been so named as appamanna because when developing metta, loving-kindness, it could be done with unlimited or perfect exercise of the qualities of friendliness – metta etc., towards all beings.

Analytical statement of the meaning of metta

Of the four kinds of Brahmavihara Dhamma, metta means love, karuna means compassion, mudita means happiness or joy, upekkha means equanimity. Out of these four meanings translated into English, only the meaning of the word ‘compassion’ is clear and precise without mingling with any other sense or terminology. The term “love” may convey the sense of clinging or attachment with raga, human passionate desires. “Happiness” also concerns rejoicing for fulfillment of one’s own desire or, in connection with Dhamma. “Equanimity or Indifference” covers various aspects of mental sensations, etc. As such, if the meanings of the terms: metta, mudita and upekkha are rendered in English as love, happiness and equanimity, it would appear to have related to other meanings of different shades, extraneous to what is really intended to convey. Hence, it would be more obvious, if they are expressed in ordinary Pali usage, as metta bhavana,karuna bhavana, and upekkha bhavana. So we shall use the Pali language, which is more comprehensively clear to delivering this teaching.

Metta bhavana means nothing but to develop one’s mind with loving-kindness towards others. When a thought occurs wishing prosperity and happiness to others, it is but a virtuous thought. What is meant by karuna bhavana is to develop compassionate feeling towards other beings. Even ordinarily, if one feels pity towards the other wishing him escape from sufferings, it is a virtuous thought of karuna. As regards “mudita”, it conveys the sense of joy or rejoicing with others in their continued happiness and prosperity. Regarding the term upekkha, it is a feeling of indifference or equanimity with no interest or worry in another’s happiness, state or condition – having a neutral sensation – thinking that these things have inevitably happened according to kamma, the consequential effects of good or bad merits. Of these four sorts of brahmavihara, first and foremost, I shall deal with the development of metta brahmavihara.

Translation: Homage to Him, the Exalted, the Worthy, the Fully Enlightened One.

• If you need help with the Pali terms, please refer to the Pali-English Glossary.